How Long Does It Take Nails to Grow? An Expert Weighs In

Written by Krista Bugden
Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, RD

Updated on January 4, 2024

Long, beautiful nails aren’t just a current fashion trend…

In 1954, dentist Robert Slack introduced acrylic nails, but the concept of artificial nails dates back thousands of years—women in ancient Egypt would use nut shells, bones, ivory, and even gold as artificial nails!

Fast forward to 2024. Long, healthy nails are still a coveted trait, but achieving them naturally takes some patience. (It can take three to 18 months for a nail to grow back fully.) In this article, we’ll cover five common nail myths, plus five tips on how you can nourish and strengthen your nails—naturally.

What’s the Basic Anatomy of Nails?

Understanding the anatomy of your nails can help you determine better ways to foster nail strength and growth. So, what’s in a nail? Here’s a brief breakdown:

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  • Nail Plate: The nail plate is the most visible part of the nail and the part we decorate with nail polish and art. This hard, translucent layer of keratin covers and protects the underlying nail bed.
  • Nail Bed: Situated beneath the nail plate, the nail bed provides support and nourishment to the nail. It's rich in blood vessels and nerves, contributing to the nail's healthy pink color.
  • Cuticle: The cuticle is a thin layer of tissue that overlaps the nail plate at the base of the nail. It acts as a protective barrier, preventing the entry of microorganisms into the nail matrix.
  • Nail Matrix: Often referred to as the nail root, the matrix is located at the base of the nail, under the skin. It's responsible for producing cells that become the nail plate. This means that the health and state of the matrix directly affect the growth and quality of the visible nail (1).

What Factors Impact Nail Health?

Inevitably, nail growth isn’t simply about the basic anatomy of our nails. Genetics, nutrition, certain health conditions, age, and environmental factors can deter or support nail health.

For instance, a diet low in biotin, iron, zinc, protein, magnesium, and more may result in brittle and weak nails or vertical ridges in your nails (2). Additionally, anemic conditions impact the amount of iron your body can effectively deliver to the nails, resulting in a weaker nail matrix. Weak nails are also associated with thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism (3).

Additionally, brittle nails can happen due to long-term nail polish or gel use. Fungal infections can further lead to discoloration, brittleness, and thickening of the nails. Usually, these types of infections arise in the toenails.

Common nail disorders that impact nail health and strength include:

  • Psoriasis: This condition doesn’t just impact the skin; it also can cause your nails to become thicker, develop holes, and change color or shape (4).
  • Eczema: Research indicates that individuals with eczema can experience nail changes, including pitting, dents, roughness, or thickening (5).
  • Lichen planus: This condition can lead to thinning and pitting of the nail plate. The nail may also lift off the nail bed or appear darker and thicker (6).
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How Long Does It Take Nails to Grow?

Surprisingly, it can take three to 18 months for your nails to grow back after biting or breakage, depending on the severity of their breakage or health.

Dr. Chaudhry, MD and UK board-certified dermatologist, elaborates, “On average, nails grow about 1/100 of an inch per day, which amounts to roughly six months for a complete nail growth cycle from the bottom all the way to the tip. However, growth rate can vary slightly between individuals.”

Other factors like age, pregnancy, and sex may also influence nail growth. So, let’s take a closer look below.

Nail Growth by Age

“Our rate of nail growth tends to slow slightly with age,” says Dr. Chaudhry. “As we grow older, our overall metabolic processes slow down, including nail growth. Certain medical conditions also common in seniors, like poor circulation, can further impair nail growth.”

A study following individuals for 35 years further demonstrated this variation—between the ages of 32 and 67, researchers determined that nail growth slowed by an average of 0.028 millimeters (7).

Nail Growth During Pregnancy

“Many women report faster nail growth during pregnancy,” explains Dr. Chaudhry. “This is believed to be due to increased circulation and hormonal changes that occur. The extra blood flow and nutrients delivered to the body may provide a better environment to support nail growth.”

However, due to these hormonal changes during pregnancy, nails may also go the other way and become brittle. In other words, it could go either way, depending on various factors. 

A recent 2023 study further suggested that nail changes between pregnant and non-pregnant women are similar (8). However, more large studies could help solidify these findings.

Nail Growth in Men vs. Women

Generally, men’s nails tend to grow faster than women's. One study even noted that younger age and the male gender were associated with a faster nail growth rate. However, they also stated that these results weren’t statistically significant, indicating individual variations (9).

5 Tips for Promoting Healthy Nail Growth

Supporting healthy nail growth involves a combination of proper care and good habits. With that in mind, here are a few tips you can implement for stronger and longer nails.

1. Eat a Balanced Diet

Nutrition plays a significant role in the general health of the body, as well as the health of our nails, skin, and hair. A diet containing plenty of proteins, omega-3s, iron, calcium, biotin, vitamins, and more can ensure your body has the tools it needs to foster healthy and strong nails. 

“While genetics determine the maximum rate,” says Dr. Chaudhry, “getting adequate nutrition, staying hydrated, and protecting nails can help optimize growth. A healthy, balanced diet with protein and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E—along with good circulation through exercise—supports nail matrix cells. Moisturizing hands daily also keeps nails flexible and less prone to breakage.”

Some good foods to add to your diet to maximize nail growth include fish, nuts, spinach, and eggs. Finding ways to rotate these through your regular diet can also benefit your overall health and metabolism.

2. Take Collagen Peptides

Collagen supplementation has shown promising results in improving nail growth by up to 12% while also decreasing the brittleness of nails (10). However, allowing adequate time for collagen to take effect is crucial.

While experts aren’t entirely sure how this works, it’s theorized that collagen does this by contributing to new nail growth at the nail bed. As a result, this contributes to strong nails and less breakage.

Consistent intake of collagen peptides for a period of three to six months is recommended for optimal results. You can anticipate observing noticeable improvements within this timeframe.

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3. Protect Your Nails

When growing out your nails, it helps to protect them against harsh chemicals and excessive moisture. These can create weakened and brittle nails, leading to increased breakage. Wearing proper gloves when handling household cleaners and avoiding immersion in water for long durations can help prevent this.

4. Avoid Using Acrylic or Gel Nail Products

If you really want to enhance your nail health, skip that regular nail appointment. Gel and acrylic manicures can thin the nails, leading to splitting and breakage. 

Instead, consider nail hardeners or oils during this time. These can help strengthen the nails as you grow them back out.

5. Don’t Bite or Pick Them!

Inevitably, biting or picking can lead to weak and short nails. It can also increase the risk of nail infection, as well as have harmful effects on the teeth.

If this is a bad habit, it can help to wear gloves. But, this can be impractical for some. It may pay off to coat your nails with nail hardener, which won’t taste very good when you go in for a nibble. 

Additionally, avoiding nail biting may come down to altering your habits. For instance, if you’re more prone to bite your nails when you get nervous, it may help to find another nerve-quenching habit, such as breathwork or journaling.

FAQs

Not exactly. This common belief is also echoed in the world of hair health, where it’s commonly believed that cutting one’s hair will make it grow faster. In reality, haircuts simply make your hair healthier, giving way to fewer split ends. And with nails, it’s similar.

Cutting or trimming your nails does not affect their growth rate. Nails grow from the matrix (the root), not from the ends. However, regular trimming does help maintain nail strength and prevent breakage, making nails appear to grow longer over time since they're less likely to break.

Krista Bugden
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Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden is a freelance writer with a BS in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She spent 5 years working as a kinesiologist, giving her the first-hand experience she needed to write well-researched, scientific, and informative blogs.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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